Now that it is all over and the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the National League pennant and have nothing more to worry about except beating the New York Yankees in the World Series, it is easy to forget that awful Sunday less than two weeks ago when the Dodgers lost the pennant in Philadelphia. With some effort, you may recall the details. A thousand miles to the west, the St. Louis Cardinals were winning their 10th straight game, their 19th out of 20. In Philadelphia the Dodgers were losing disgracefully. They had lost a game to the Phillies on Friday night when what should have been a game-ending double play turned into a nightmarish two-run error. Now, on Sunday, they made not one but a dozen bad plays, lost to the Phillies 6-1 and found their once-fat lead withered away to one miserable game. All over the country people were shouting across the street to one another: "Did you hear? The Dodgers lost! The Cards are only a game back!"
And then it was Monday, and there, with melodramatic perfection, were the folding Dodgers in St. Louis to play three games in a row with the flaming, blazing, red-hot, rampaging, wheed-up, hell-for-leather, every-time-a-bull's-eye Cardinals. More than 60 sportswriters poured into town for the kill. Before the first game a caucus of them surrounded Walter Alston, the Dodger manager. "Do you think you're going to blow the pennant again?" asked one. Alston the Calm contained himself. With only a note of exasperation in his voice he replied, "We've won 13 of our last 19 games. Do you call that blowing it?"
"Well," said another, "what about that game yesterday in Philadelphia?"
"We have games like that every now and then," Alston said. "It's nothing to worry about."
No one believed him. No one ever seems to believe Walter Alston, possibly because what he says is obvious and reasonable. The Dodgers are not a good fielding team, and they have played embarrassingly inept games at times during the year. But their superb pitching—particularly by Sandy Koufax and Ron Perranoski, the best starter and the best reliever in baseball this year—and their ability to eke out at least one or two runs almost every game have quieted any panic caused by the abysmal fielding. When the San Francisco Giants made their last assault on Los Angeles late in August, the Dodgers met the challenge head on, beat the Giants three games out of four and knocked them out of the pennant race. This was what Alston meant. He had his pitching lined up for the Cardinal series, and all his hitters and fielders were healthy and waiting. He was ready.
But no one believed him. Everyone was excited by the St. Louis pennant drive, and hardly anyone outside of Los Angeles wanted the Dodgers to win. Emotion insisted that the Dodgers were collapsing and that nothing could stop the Cardinals now. Critic told critic, "They're feeling it. You can't tell me the Dodgers don't remember last year." And critic agreed.
Who could forget last year?
Certainly the Dodgers remembered last year. How could they forget it? But what the critics failed to take into consideration was that the memory of defeat can stimulate as well as paralyze. The old slogans said, "Remember Pearl Harbor," "Remember the Maine," "Remember the Alamo." The Dodgers remembered 1962. Every game they played leading up to the Cardinal series was a flag waved at the specter of last year's disaster; every game they won was a measure of revenge. This time no one said, "We can play .500 ball the last three weeks and still take the pennant." This time they wanted to win every game, every last game.
And so they beat St. Louis three straight. They got the roaring Cardinals into a cold shower, sobered them up and turned them around. To paraphrase a line of Gertrude Stein, the Cardinals instead of going the way they were going went back the way they had come. The Dodgers beat them with pitching, speed and pride, and perhaps the third of these was most important because the three games were awfully close, and the Cardinals could well have won all of them. The first game was a 1-1 tie going into the ninth, the second was 1-0 going into the eighth and the third went 13 innings before the Dodgers won 6-5. The Cardinals pitched well and fielded well, they hit sharply and fought hard—but in the end their pitching gave way, their fielding broke down, their hitters did not come through.
The three games were marvelous affairs, collector's items, filled with unforgettable bits and pieces of baseball that will be dug out and talked about for years. A few of these may serve to explain why the Dodgers beat the Cardinals and why they won the pennant. In the first game both starting pitchers were taken out after eight innings with the score tied 1-1. The Cardinals used Bobby Shantz and Ron Taylor in relief in the ninth; a double, a single, two walks and an error on a double-play ball gave the Dodgers two runs. The Dodgers used Perranoski in the ninth; the Cardinals went down one, two, three, and the game was over. Score one point for superior relief pitching.